As Catalan regional elections loom this autumn, there is a possibility many of the candidates running for office will not be politicians.
This is a strategy being considered by the northeastern region's pro-independence movement, which plans to treat the September 27th election for the local parliament as a plebiscite on a split from Spain.
Civic groups backing secession have proposed the idea of including no active politicians on a united, pro-independence electoral ticket.
According to Muriel Casals of Òmnium Cultural, an influential organisation that backs the “civic list” plan, it would “leave out political leaders in order to create a photograph of Catalan society, of those citizens who want independence”.
It is a novel initiative in a bid for independence that has consistently thrown up surprises over the past three years. But while its supporters present it as a masterstroke that will bring independence closer, speculation from other quarters suggests this is an act of desperation by a Catalan separatist movement that has lost momentum.
A poll published in June by the CEO Catalan study centre showed 43 per cent of the region’s people supported independence, against 50 per cent who are opposed. That marked a noticeable drop in pro-independence feeling since an unofficial referendum was held on the issue last November, when two million Catalans came out to vote. More than 80 per cent them backed independence, although the vast majority of those who favoured unity with Spain stayed at home.
Last week, unionist politicians lined up to attack the new civic list proposal. On Thursday, Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, described it as “extraordinarily confusing”, adding that going into elections without politicians as candidates “would be like Barça playing without footballers”.
On Friday, Catalan regional premier
was due to meet with civic groups and pro-independence parties to discuss the plan’s viability, but the meeting was postponed.
Mas has been the figurehead of the independence process since 2012, when he declared the Spanish central government's refusal to discuss the further devolution of financial powers to Catalonia left him no option but to seek separation. Nationalists also cite what they see as Madrid's repression of and failure to understand their culture and language as motives for independence.
It was Mas who first proposed the idea of a cross-party pro-independence ticket for the September election, but accepting the “no politicians” proposal would effectively mean marginalising himself from the entire process.
“From a marketing point of view, this is a good idea, because of the lack of credibility of politicians at the moment,” says Jaume López, a political scientist at Pompeu Fabra university, in Barcelona.
“The problems with it would start on the day after the election,” he said, pointing to the logistics of having civilians in political posts.
Besides the tensions with
, Catalonia’s own political situation has added another layer of intrigue to the independence process.
Mas’s nationalist Convergence party recently parted ways with its long-time coalition partner, Union, which is less committed to independence, therefore further splitting an already fragmented political landscape. Meanwhile, Convergence has frequently clashed with the powerful Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party over a “road map” to independence envisaged as being completed as early as 2016.
In addition, Mas suffered a setback when his party lost control of Barcelona City Hall, in May, to a leftist coalition which has made social justice, rather than independence, its priority. The emergence of Podemos, the leftist anti-austerity party that backed the new Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, has opened another flank for Mas and his fellow nationalists.
With a general election approaching by the end of the year, the staunchly unionist Popular Party may possibly be removed from power, making way for other parties that are more sympathetic to Catalan nationalism. Ironically, that prospect could be undermining the independence cause.
"When there's a government that's hostile to increased autonomy, like that of the Popular Party, a lot of people will choose independence over the status quo," Lluís Orriols, a political analyst at Carlos III university, wrote in Público newspaper.
“But when that perspective changes and there could be a credible alternative regarding a new state model, their opinion changes.”